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A One Day Adventure

Freda Isaksen

More than 100 years ago a young couple living in Sierra Madre, California purchased a wisteria plant in a one-gallon can. They set it in the soil in their back garden and enjoyed watching it grow and flower as the years went by. It grew profusely as they watered and tended it, soon it became a tree and quickly outgrew their hopes for it, and the next generation saw it grow beyond anyone’s imagination. It spread into the neighboring gardens with its lilac-colored blossoms and foliage, providing much-needed shade in the summer months that are hot in that area. The branches became so heavy that they had to be supported with stakes and latticed beams. The tree has been estimated to weigh several tons.

Of course it came to be an attraction for the whole city and word soon spread around to neighboring communities and many sightseers would clog the private street to see it. The original owners sold the house and the city of Sierra Madre proclaimed the tree to be a historical landmark, so any future owners could not destroy it. The present owners consider the extraordinary wisteria tree to be a gift for all to enjoy, so they open their gardens one day a year as a public service for everyone who wishes to visit. The blossoms are in bloom about two weeks every year, so naturally on that designated day hundreds of people come on foot, in cars and buses to the beautiful sight and the city plans a festive day, well-organised with street fairs, food and entertainment.

A club in another city offered its members a day’s outing, they would travel to Sierra Madre from Santa Monica by bus about an hour’s journey. Two friends, Fern and Alice, were glad of the opportunity and made the necessary arrangements to join the group. They each drove their cars to the designated pickup point on Santa Monica Boulevard where they could be parked until the return home.

It was a pleasant drive on the bus with about 35 other participants, they drove through areas which were new to them, containing well-preserved houses and gardens and lush landscape. The bus parked a short distance from the house of the wisteria tree. There were crowds of people approaching the area, admission was by ticket only obtained by reservation with no charge. Everyone entered the gardens by single file, viewed the flowering tree and exited through another gate. A time was given to return to the bus, then they would be driven to the center of town where food could be purchased.

Fern and Alice had enjoyed the day and looked forward to lunch and were discussing their opinions of the day’s events when the driver of the bus entered a very narrow one-way street, little more than an alley. As he attempted to exit there was not enough space to turn the corner, so his only alternative was to back up again the way he came. After a few yards the bus started to clunk-clunk loudly, came to a halt and would not move either forward or backward. The passengers were asked to get off as hopefully less weight might enable it to start again. This was not successful so it was necessary to call a mechanic and the passengers could get lunch meanwhile. Because of all the confusion no time was given for the participants to return.

Fern and Alice walked to the main street which was crowded on this special day, no fast food place was evident so they waited for a vacant table at a restaurant and ordered refreshment. Obviously, this area only had so much business one day a year so it was hard for them to cope and service was very slow. The two friends discussed the improbability of fast service, they were hungry so they stayed until the food was served, then hurried back to the bus. When they were a short distance from the vehicle, to their dismay they saw it driving away. They followed a little way hoping it would park close by, but it disappeared much faster than they could walk and Fern and Alice realised that they were stranded in Sierra Madre and must find their own way home.

Fern immediately suggested that they call a taxi, it would cost a fortune but what else could they do? It was well into the afternoon, the days were short and dark might set in if they lingered too long. Alice was not eager to call a taxi because of the expense, so she went to a public phone at a gas station to call the bus company by 800 number, hoping they would send another bus or reimburse the cost of a taxi. The only listing with a similar name was located on the East Coast.

The friends approached a policeman and he offered the information that there were no local taxis, one must call Pasadena some few miles away and a cab would be sent from there at extra cost. “Is there any public transportation to Pasadena?” they asked. Yes, there is a bus stop for a local bus two blocks down the street, but it was Sunday and the policeman was uncertain about schedules on a weekend. Fern was still anxious to call a taxi, the two of them counted their money and had 35 dollars, but Fern thought that if she could only reach home she would find some dollar bills there and ask her neighbors for the rest. Just get home safely as soon as possible, but Alice would not consent. Fern said, “All right, we’ll do it your way. I will wait one hour at the bus stop, then I’ll walk back to the public phone and call a taxi. I will pay the cost.” They sat on the bench and luck was with them, a bus arrived which was marked Metro. They asked for fare to Pasadena and were charged 40 cents each for seniors. Then they explained their dilemma and asked the best way to get to Santa Monica from Pasadena. The bus driver answered, “This bus goes to downtown Los Angeles. From there you can take another bus to Wilshire Boulevard and transfer to a Santa Monica bus.” He issued a transfer with no extra charge.

A lady on the bus overheard this conversation, she offered the advice that there is a better way. “You take the number 4 bus,” she said. “I will show you where to pick it up.” This very friendly lady escorted the friends to the bus just around the corner and indeed her information was correct and the two boarded the bus marked Santa Monica which took them directly to where their cars were parked. All this for a total cost of 80 cents.

What started out to be a catastrophe ended up as an adventure as the bus drove through districts Fern and Alice had never seen before. The ride took two-and-a-half hours, it was still daylight when they arrived home and they were really exhilarated from the experience.

Fern was anxious that the organiser of the day trip would be worried about them. At her home she immediately looked in the phone book but the lady’s name was not listed. However, there was one name spelled alike but the initial A, a different first name. Fern dialed that number hoping it might be a relative, there was no answer. Fern was bothered all evening, she knew the nice lady would not sleep that night, so later she called again. “Are you by any chance related to Bea?” she asked the voice that answered. “I’m her granddaughter,” came the reply. Fern explained that she must reach Bea immediately. “Yes, I’ve heard about the trouble already,” said A. “Call her immediately.”

Although the adventure turned out well, a lot of stimulation was needed that night to calm some frayed nerves.


Copyright Freda Isaksen 1986–2006. Permission to reuse for non-commercial purposes is granted, provided that the text is unaltered and the original source is acknowledged. For more information, contact isaksen at math.wayne.edu.

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